Press Release

Niue’s bold effort to conserve its ocean featured in new film, Protecting Paradise

A nation comes together to preserve 40% of its waters in Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue, premiering June 7 at 10 pm EDT/ 9pm CDT on the National Geographic Channel.

Data about global warming’s disastrous effects on the ocean can feel bleak, but a new film, Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue, provides glimmers of hope during World Ocean Month.

“What we’re doing here, it’s not only for Niueans, but we’re showing to the rest of the world that it can be done,” says Dalton Tagelagi, the Premier of Niue, about his nation’s audacious conservation efforts. “Yes we are small, but we’re showing the way.”

The documentary follows leaders and community members from the tropical Pacific island nation who are making bold changes to move the needle on marine protection. With a population of under 2,000 people and a marine reserve covering 40% of its waters, Niue has demonstrated the ways in which traditional knowledge and contemporary science can live in harmony for the benefit of people and the planet.

Shot and produced by National Geographic Pristine Seas during a scientific expedition to Niue in 2023, the film brings viewers onto its research vessel, where international and local team members investigate the health of the Moana Mahu Marine Protected Area, three years after it was established. The scientists and filmmakers witness stunning color and epic marine life, leaving viewers in awe about how only a few years of protection has restored the underwater landscape.

Pristine Seas — an exploration, research and media project that supports the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world — first visited Niue in 2016. Alongside the government of Niue, Tofia Niue and Oceans 5, marine scientists surveyed the nation’s unique underwater ecosystems and supported its marine planning efforts.

“This film offers a rare glimpse into the stunning marine life surrounding Niue — a nation formed by one of the largest raised coral atolls on Earth,” comments Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer in Residence and Executive Director of Pristine Seas. “Protecting 40% of its waters has reaped clear benefits and we hope others will follow Niue’s lead in conserving vital swaths of the ocean before it’s too late.”

Though Niue is a small nation, sitting on a landmass less than half the size of Chicago, its exclusive economic zone is significant. Home to a wide array of diverse species like humpback whales and the katuali — a sea snake found only in Niue that dwells in the country’s coastal caves — local leadership and conservationists recognized the island’s unique and vibrant oceanscape as a key place to protect.

As a result of local leadership and strong science, the Moana Mahu Marine Protected Area became a reality in 2020. Encompassing 40 percent of the nation’s waters, the reserve covers 127,000 square kilometers and includes Beveridge Reef, home to the highest density of gray reef sharks in the world.

“We all feel like salt water runs through our veins. The ocean is the life force that made us. And made Niue. We owe our existence to the ocean. And that’s why we fight to protect it,” asserts Coral Pasisi, President of Tofia Niue.

Marine protected areas where commercial fishing and other damaging activities are banned, give back to communities in multitudes. They not only restore marine life within their boundaries, but also replenish nearby fish populations, improve local fishing, provide jobs and economic benefits, and build resilience against a warming ocean.

Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue explores the ways in which these benefits come to life and the special meaning the ocean has to the people who live on and near it.

“We are grateful for this invaluable taoga [treasure] of captured knowledge, practice, and experience. Our culture and history is oral and not traditionally written or documented, so this film is a priceless contribution to the preservation of our culture and existence not just for our children but for the rest of the world too,” states Pasisi — who appears in the film — after watching Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue at its local premiere last month.

In September 2023, Niue led the way once again in Pacific ocean conservation by launching its award-winning sustainable funding initiative that offers individuals and organizations the opportunity to sponsor a small portion of its marine sanctuary via Niue’s Ocean Conservation Commitments (OCC). Through the program, persons from anywhere in the world can sponsor the protection of a square kilometer of the Moana Mahu Marine Protected Area, offering invaluable protection that will extend across Niue and beyond. As part of its leadership, the government of Niue acted as the first contributor — sponsoring one OCC for each of its citizens.

For Niue, conserving the ocean is not just the right thing to do, it is a matter of national survival, as the impacts of global warming become more clear. Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue portrays both the urgency of this mission and the optimism of the people fighting for it.

Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue premieres June 7 at 10pm EDT / 9pm CDT on the National Geographic Channel in the United States and will launch to audiences globally in honor of World Ocean Day on Video on Demand / Hulu / Disney+ on June 8.

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About Pristine Seas

Pristine Seas works with Indigenous and local communities, governments, and other partners to help protect vital places in the ocean using a unique combination of research, community engagement, policy work, and strategic communications and media. Since 2008, our program has conducted 43 expeditions around the world and helped establish 27 marine reserves, spanning more than 6.6 million square kilometers of ocean.

About The National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content.

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